Encouraging were the reactions to my last two columns on prosecutors and lawyers. On Oct. 4, I humbly proposed guidelines on how prosecutors could be deterred from “filing frivolous, reckless, malevolent, and politically-motivated charges.” Earlier, on Sept. 27, I wrote that the Supreme Court’s short shrift of facially baseless petitions would “differentiate shysters… from trustworthy lawyers…”
Promptly responding to my Oct. 4 piece on the early morning it came out, Compañero Ralph Jerome Salvador, chief of staff of Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, texted that he would include it in the agenda of the Court’s Committee on the Revision of the Rules on Criminal Procedure chaired by the CJ.
Equally encouraging is Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra’s text the following day, which I quote in part: “…thank you for the many good things that you have said about me in your PDI columns, which I regularly read! [E]specially… your article yesterday on probable cause. Alam ninyo po, matagal na rin po naming pinag-uusapan ang issue na yan sa National Prosecution Service. You hit the nail right on its head. I intend to do further consultations… with the Supreme Court. Babalitaan ko po kayo. Meantime, I’m so happy that I have established contact with a great jurist like you…”
Sandiganbayan Justice Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac also texted that my suggested reforms would reduce court congestion and enable the magistrates to focus on many pending litigations.
Naga Regional Trial Court Judge Soliman M. Santos Jr. did one better. He lengthily quoted my Oct. 4 column in his Oct. 5, 2020 decision (People v. Orcine) acquitting the accused who had been detained without bail for nearly four years.
With all these encouraging responses, I trust that the huge chasm between “probable cause” and “proof beyond reasonable doubt” will soon be bridged and quality justice more speedily rendered.
On my Sept. 27 piece, several lawyers poignantly reminisced my vision for the legal profession when I was CJ which was printed on the back cover of my book “Liberty and Prosperity” (2006): “I look for competent and ethical lawyers who are responsible, dependable, morally upright, and who courageously uphold truth and justice above everything else.”
With this vision in sight, Compañero Romulo Macalintal sent an inspired email I quote in part, “…a lawyer worth his salt should know if a case is meritorious or not. In my long years of law practice, that has been my guiding principle: to handle only meritorious cases, a maxim I passed on to two of my children who… are also members of the bar.”
In the late 1990s, a Metro Manila mayor who lost his reelection bid handed Macalintal a blank check as his professional fee for an election protest he wanted him to file. Honestly telling the mayor that his case would not prosper, he returned the check.
As a lawyer of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Macalintal was offered many lofty posts like Commission on Elections chair and solicitor general. When I asked why he declined them, he replied, “…honestly, and I told her, I did not have the management ability and experience at that time to handle these offices. Neither did I intercede for anyone to secure a contract or deal. I maintained only a strict client-attorney relationship with her… Honesty is always the best policy…”
An interesting episode in Macalintal’s legal career is Macalintal v. Teh (Oct. 16, 1997). After a judge fined him P100,000 for filing a motion to inhibit His Honor due to clear bias, he appealed to the Supreme Court which, after due process, ousted the judge and forfeited his retirement benefits for “gross ignorance of the law.”
Finding the penalty too harsh, Macalintal pleaded for clemency, patiently citing similar cases where the respondents were merely suspended or fined. Finally relenting to his persistent pleas for nine years, the Court on Jan. 31, 2005, granted clemency to and allowed the judge to collect his accrued leaves (but not his full retirement benefits).
The Court, when I was already CJ, observed that the judge sincerely repented for his transgression, reformed his ways, and renewed his life.
Macalintal recalled: “I thought I would never meet the judge again. But one day, I received an invitation to attend his 75th birthday… We became good friends until his death some years back. I even became a principal wedding sponsor of one of (his) daughters.”
By: Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban
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This article was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer